Killing Them Loudly
There’s a morally reprehensible angle to Vigilante. Not only this film, but others of its brethren too, although Vigilante acts with a forthrightness. Fred Williamson exits deep shadows, speaking directly to the camera and thus, the audience. He speaks about right, about power, and why no one acts when a system fails. Then, he punishes gang members, pimps, and drug dealers. Eventually, murderers too.
William Lustig directed Maniac prior to Vigilante. Both exist in a seedy ‘80s sub-genre, the “ruinous New York” film. The city’s gratuitous crime rate influenced media throughout the decade, and even real world groups who fought back. No wonder considering said media was so aggressive.
Vigilante tries reasoning, tries to do the right thing
Vigilante tries reasoning, tries to do the right thing
Unlike Death Wish, the common comparison, Vigilante feels legitimately grounded. A home invasion, either racially dubious or merely dated dialog aside, generates spectacular tension. The panic following a gruesome child’s death brings out truthful emotions. Same goes for a chase sequence at the end, performed on New York’s streets, people in the background looking on as if the areas were not cordoned off for filming. Maybe it’s a ludicrous statement, but it’s only slightly less than Bullit’s memorable achievement.
Plus, Vigilante tries reasoning, tries to do the right thing. Robert Forster’s average middle class working man hero resists until a judge puts him in jail for contempt, letting an obvious killer go free. The eventual rampage isn’t much of one. Forster knows his targets. He acts. Copious bloodshed aside, there’s limited exploitation value. Offing the last gang member, Forster brawls under an American flag tattered on its fringes, the symbology not lost as this man who trusted lawyers and laws turns against what he believed.
While Forster’s imprisoned, Williamson leads a group fighting back, notably offing an arrogant drug kingpin whose financial security assured no prison time. In that group is an ex-cop who came to realize how little rules were enforced, punching out goons during his time away from machine work. Vigilante’s worst trait is that it calls on people to react, not innocently, while making those brawls look enticing, instead of dangerous or deadly. Forster’s side carries empathy; his reaction is honest, and his turn slow. In Williamson’s case, it’s an instant-on before Vigilante even finds a voice. There’s an imbalance between the two parallel (and later, joined) story lines, a fault in an otherwise stellar revenge flick.
Whenever a major studio puts out a substandard master, there’s no longer an excuse. If Blue Underground so masterfully resurrects Vigilante (and numerous others already) on a fraction of the economic backing, then nearly anything can achieve this perfection. Graded with Dolby Vision, the source isn’t rich in black levels, more the common dimming typical of this period. Yet, there’s still depth and image density. High contrast follows Vigilante through to its finish, highlights sensational. Welding sparks match reality.
Ridiculously perfect sharpness finds anything and everything on this film stock. Massive texture pushes facial detail in droves, plus resolves the city’s exteriors. Grime and grit cover buildings. Dock workers stand coated in oil, all defined. Other than at the source, the intensity doesn’t let up. There’s nary a scratch on this print either, a perfect restoration. Compression doesn’t fail, keeping the grain structure resolved and pure.
If there’s any fault in Blue Underground’s process, it’s color grading. There’s a definite digital push, mostly toward cooler blues. This doesn’t impact brightness or saturation in primaries since those still pop, glow even, and within reason. From the purple wings on the gang member’s jackets, the stellar denim, to the New York skylines, the hues look fantastic and flush. Green hospital walls produce a striking result.
Two DTS-HD tracks, one stereo, the other 5.1, join a new Dolby Atmos track. Focusing on the latter, the action holds primarily to the center. A few moments slip toward the stereos, if barely the rears (confined to a brutal assault on a cop car). Mostly, the score takes up residence in surrounds and overheads, filling the soundstage fully.
Fidelity finds a natural lane, faded, dry, and lean. Acceptable and cleaned up, to no detriment of the end result.
Bonuses appear on the UHD and Blu-ray, three commentaries up first. Track one involves director William Lustig and producer Andrew Garroni. Lustig returns for the second, joined this time by cast members Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, and Frank Pesce. A new one pairs historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Blue Collar Death Wish serves as a retrospective making of, using interviews from multiple people, including writer Richard Vetere and actor Randy Jurgensen. Composer Jay Chattaway speaks in a separate interview segment. Trailers, radio spots, and other promo materials finish the disc, while an informative booklet is written by Michael Gingold.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: